I love music and, with mobile devices becoming more suitable for streaming audio, it has become much easier to enjoy pure sound. However, over the years, I have found that not all mobiles come with earphones. Also, earphones, bundled with mobiles, are more suitable for voice calls. Only the costly mobiles come with earphones that offer a good audio experience as well.
Now let us see what exactly an earphone is and how the technical aspects can affect its sound output and performance. According to Wikipedia, John C Koss, an audiophile and jazz musician from Milwaukee, produced the first stereo headphones in 1943. The 3.5mm radio and phone connector, which is the most commonly used in portable application today, has been used at least since the Sony EFM-117J radio released in 1964. Sony and its Walkman series made headphones more popular.
How effectively an earpiece converts an incoming electrical signal into an audible sound is measured in decibels of sound pressure level per mill watt (dB (SPL)/mW). The sensitivity of headphones is usually between about 80 and 125 dB/mW and usually measured at 1kHz. High-quality (and costly) headphones can have an extremely flat low-frequency response down to 20Hz within 3dB. Claims such as ‘frequency response 4Hz to 20kHz’ are usually overstatements because earphones’ response at frequencies lower than 20Hz is, typically, very limited.
Basically, mobile earphone needs to have a volume control button, a microphone and 3.5mm plug or pin. Nowadays, most of the earphones offer stereo sound; so I am leaving this out from the checklist. To provide uninterrupted audio experience, earphones use two techniques to cancel or reduce external disturbances. Several in-ear headphones use passive voice isolation to block external sound. This is done by using silicon caps or earplugs. Active noise cancelling earphones use a microphone, amplifier and speaker to catch, amplify and play ambient noise in phase-reversed form to cancel external noises without affecting the desired sound source. Both these techniques, although helpful in providing a good experience, can endanger the user as they isolate you from the surrounding noises.
Also note that just having a good-quality earphone is not enough. Your mobile device also needs to provide suitable signals to the earphone to produce high-quality audio. Sometimes, you can use another mobile app as a music or video player that offers better sound than the in-built apps. Over the years, and several editions later, I found JetAudio Plus for music and MX Player for videos performing as per my expectations. Of course, you need to experiment with these apps to get most out of them, in terms of good sound quality and visuals. However, it is simple and can be done easily by anyone.
Le 2 mobile from LeEco comes with an interesting earphone based on what they call continual digital lossless audio (CDLA). The type-C headphones, with built-in decoders, deliver Hi-Fi audio without the prerequisite of an amp or pre-amp making high-fidelity audio affordable and accessible. Listening to audio on this earphone is a wonderful experience. The only issue with LeEco’s CDLA earphones is that it comes with a type-C port and not 3.5mm jack. This means that you cannot use this earphone with other audio devices. The company provides a converter (from type-C to 3.5mm jack), but that does not give the same sound quality.
Except Le2’s earphones, I have not mentioned any names or model numbers. This is because you need to physically check the audio output and the quality of sound from the earphone by connecting it to the mobile, and buy it only if you are satisfied. Also check how the earphone fits into your ears and whether you are comfortable using it. In addition, this applies only if you are buying additional earphones and not those that come bundled with your mobiles. Nevertheless, do check the total audio output, balance of sound (bass and treble levels), stereo effects and, only then, buy it.